The Trust Gap and the Terror List

This is a cautionary tale about the trust gap between Cuba and the United States.

Last March, Cuban dissidents camped out in a church in Havana days before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and demanded that he met with them to discuss violations of human rights in Cuba.  Once the Pope made it clear that he would not change his schedule, he was denounced by political figures in the United States for indifference to their cause, human rights.

A few months later, the head of Radio and TV Martí, a U.S. government agency, took to the airwaves to deliver personally a stinging attack on Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, whom he called “a lackey” who colluded with the Castro regime.  A copy of the vitriolic editorial was quickly removed from the Marti’s website once the Washington Post publicized it.  Despite Congressional criticism, the U.S. government never apologized or explained the verbal assault against the chief of the Cuban Catholic Church who had helped negotiate the release of political prisoners and arranged for the Pope’s trip.

Was the director of Radio/TV Martí on or off the reservation when he called Cardinal Ortega a lackey?  Why are we paying a government employee to attack the Church when U.S. policy supports the role it is playing Cuba?

Read on.  This week, the Associated Press reports on an editorial and video produced by Cuba’s government about four Mexicans who were detained during the Pope’s visit in March. It says they were “paid, trained and instructed” to stir up unrest during the Pope’s visit by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.  This outfit, according to Tracey Eaton’s blog, Along the Malecón, has been on the payroll of the National Endowment of Democracy (or “NED”), meaning it receives U.S. taxpayer money.

But wait; it gets worse.  Aron Modig, the Swedish politician who was riding with the late Oswaldo Payá when he was killed in a road wreck last week, met with representatives of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, before coming to Cuba, which are funded by the aforementioned National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.  NED’s president quickly published an opinion column in the Washington Post suggesting the Cuban government was complicit in Payá’s death.

Modig was in Cuba distributing funds to dissidents when the accident took place.  Cuba, according to Anya Landau French, is the only country where Modig’s political party undertakes such activities.  USAID also subsidizes the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, and is responsible for the “regime change” programs that landed its contractor, Alan Gross, in prison.

These things happen in the background, largely invisible until tragedies like the death of Payá or the arrest of an American rise in the headlines.  The U.S. government conducts programs to instigate dissent in Cuba in a semi-covert fashion; conscientious reporters like Tracey Eaton bang their heads against the wall trying to disgorge budgets and other documents using Freedom of Information Act requests (all too often denied); and citizens like us are left guessing when events, often troubling in their appearance, suddenly come to the fore without any context at all.  There is no transparency and no accountability; especially, when neither the Congress, which funds these programs nor the Obama administration, which directs them, has any interest in answering questions like: Is the U.S. really subsidizing protests against the Pope in Cuba using hired agents from Mexico?

In the end, the biggest casualty is trust, leaving it immensely difficult for the U.S. and Cuban governments to engage with each other on issues that matter and should concern us all.  But, of course, that is exactly where the staunchest opponents of engagement want the two governments to be.  They are, in turn, the authors and funders of the covert activities that take place in Cuba without the consent of the governed here in the U.S.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. State Department keeps Cuba on list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism”

The U.S. State Department listed Cuba in its annual report on State Sponsors of Terror, reports AFP.  First designated by President Reagan in 1982, Cuba has now been on the list for 30 years even though Cuba’s inclusion on the list is well recognized as political and without substance.

For its part, Cuba strongly denounces the designation as a way for the U.S. to justify its embargo on the island. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations released an official response  in the state newspaper Granma, stating that it “energetically rejects that such a sensitive issue as terrorism be used for petty political purposes and demands that the government of the United States stop lying.” The other countries on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria.  Countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism are subject to stiff trade sanctions and are ineligible to receive U.S. aid among other restrictions.

Amnesty International calls on Cuba’s government to end arbitrary detentions

Amnesty International issued a call on Thursday for Cuba’s government to end its “cat and mouse” game with political activists on the island. Amnesty stated that the practice of repeatedly detaining and releasing political and human rights activists is “used as a form of harassment and intimidation to repress legitimate, peaceful activism and freedom of expression” and “must come to a halt.”

CDC releases travel notice for U.S. travelers to Cuba

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection issued a travel notice last Friday for Americans traveling to Cuba, reports the Examiner. Health officials say that the risk of contracting cholera is very low but that travelers should be aware of the outbreak and outlines steps to avoid contracting the disease.

Cuban American poised to be next Texas Senator

In a closely-watched race, Rafael “Ted” Edward Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, won his primary in Texas this week to become the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate after defeating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, reports the New York Times. Cruz, a Cuban American born in Canada, waged an intense primary campaign against Dewhurst, with endorsements from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, among others. He is expected to win the November election easily and join other Tea Party-backed Senators when he takes office in 2013.
In a 2006 interview, Cruz said that his father was imprisoned and tortured by the Batista government when he was 17, and shortly after he fled to Texas, before Fidel Castro had taken power, reports the Dallas News. Cruz said that his father and his friends “didn’t know Castro was a Communist, what they knew was that Batista was a cruel and oppressive dictator,” and that he soon became a staunch critic of Castro after he seized power.

Cruz will be the third Cuban-American Member of the Senate, joining Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Video implicates U.S. in planned disruptions during Pope visit

A video released by Cuba’s government presents interviews with four Mexicans detained during the Pope’s visit to Cuba in March, the AP reports. The interviewees allege that they were “paid, trained and instructed” to stir up unrest during the Pope’s visit by the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a Miami organization that is funded, according to records examined by Tracey Eaton, by the National Endowment for Democracy.  The four Mexicans in the video were questioned and then deported, while four others appear to have returned to Mexico without being detained.

 

IN CUBA

More developments on death of Oswaldo Payá

A week has passed since the traffic accident that killed Oswaldo Payá, the leader of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, and one of his colleagues. In the intervening time, new information  about the circumstances surrounding his death, and commentary about the incident, continued to emerge.

Aron Modig and Angel Carromero Barrios, the Europeans traveling in the car with Payá, confirmed the official version of the accident at a press conference on Monday, saying that there was no second vehicle involved, reports the Associated Press. Carromero, who was driving the car, stated: “I braked because I saw the hole and the sand. I lost control of the car because we had entered an area with gravel…No vehicle hit us from behind.”

Modig, a Swedish citizen, was released from custody on Tuesday, received authorization to leave the island, and arrived in Stockholm the same day, reports the Havana Times. Cuba’s courts charged Carromero, a Spaniard, with vehicular homicide, reports AFP. The charges were announced in an editorial in the state newspaper Granma.

Carromero was allegedly speeding when the car went off the road and slammed into a tree. According to Cuba’s penal code, he could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.  Records from Spain indicate that Carromero’s license was revoked on May 18, 2012 by Spanish traffic authorities in a public notice, reports the AP. He had a high number of infractions including one for excessive speeding, and was fined a total of 3,700 Euros with 42 infractions on his record since 2009.

Some continue to question official Cuban accounts of the crash. Ofelia Acebedo, the widow of Oswaldo Payá, rejected the report that blames the car crash solely on the driver for the death of her husband, reports AFP. On Wednesday, the United States Senate passed a resolution that urges Cuba’s government to allow an independent investigation into the accident, reports AFP. The Senate resolution calls “on the government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Paya.”

Meat and milk production in Cuba decreases 11.6% in first trimester

Cuban production from livestock decreased 11.6% in the first trimester of this year, compared with the same time period one year ago, EFE reports. According to numbers released by the National Statistics Office (ONE), beef and pork production fell significantly, by 1,000 and 7,000 tons respectively. Milk production at the end of the trimester was 85.2 million liters, 7.8 tons less than last year.

According to official statistics, more than 50% of idle land distributed to small farmers as part of Cuba’s agricultural reform program is designated for use for livestock production. Cuba began distributing idle state land in 2008, in hopes of increasing food production on the island and reducing imports.

Leuris Pupo and Idalys Ortiz win Olympic gold medals for Cuba

Leuris Pupo and Idalys Ortiz won Cuba’s first gold medals in shooting and Judo at the London Olympic Games this morning, reports Associated Press. Ortiz defeated Mika Sugimoto from Japan in overtime. A few hours later, Leuris Pupo won Cuba’s first ever Olympic gold medal in shooting during the 25-meter rapid fire pistol event. Shortly after he received his medal, Pupo stated: “This is massive for the sport of shooting in Cuba, it’s wonderful…It’s the first gold, we’ve had three bronzes before. I did not think I was going to win but I believed I could and I had to believe in myself to be able to concentrate.” Cuba has won two other silver medals in Judo and a bronze in weightlifting. A current medal tally is available here.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Capriles says he would end Venezuela’s preferential oil deals

Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate for president in Venezuela’s upcoming elections, said on Wednesday that he would end all of Venezuela’s deals with other countries for oil in exchange for others goods or services or on credit, reports  Reuters. Capriles said that the following countries would no longer receive preferential oil deals: Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Uruguay and Belarus. The presidential candidate argued that ending these deals would save $6.7 billion annually that would be invested in social programs.

Cuba produces about ⅓ of its national oil consumption, and depends on Venezuela to provide the rest at a highly subsidized price in exchange for medical personnel and others who work in Venezuela’s social missions. Cuba is currently exploring for oil off its northern coast in hopes of increasing its energy independence.  For a publication from the Center for Democracy in the Americas on Cuba’s search for oil and U.S.-Cuba relations, click here.

More Cubans choosing to travel to Panama by land through Colombia to get to U.S.

Hundreds of Cubans are traveling to the U.S. via dangerous land routes through Colombia and Panama, the AP reports. They travel through mountains, ravines, and swampland containing dangerous animals, in addition to guerrillas and drug traffickers. Many of those who choose this route originate their trips in Ecuador, which has looser immigration policies regarding Cubans.

From January to July, Panamanian immigration authorities detained 800 Cubans on this route –twice the amount detained in all of 2011.  Upon reaching Panama, migrants travel 1,700 miles through six countries to the U.S. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 7,407 Cubans have entered the U.S. through Mexico in the first nine months of this fiscal year.

International Court of Arbitration accepts Chilean businessman Max Marambio’s argument against Cuba

The International Court of Arbitration in Paris accepted Max Marambio’s argument against Cuba’s government, for assets of his Rio Zaza company, reports Havana Times. Marambio, a Chilean businessman, is suing after a corruption investigation lead Cuba’s government to close two of Marambio’s plants in 2010 and put a hold on $23 million of his assets. Marambio, 63, accused of bribery and fraud, left Cuba and is now living in Chile. He was charged, convicted and sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by Cuban courts in 2011, reports Reuters.

Cuba- El Salvador Partial Reach Agreement takes effect

A Partial Reach Agreement between Cuba and El Salvador took effect on Wednesday, reports the Havana Times. The agreement was ratified in September 2011, with the primary goal of strengthening trade and cooperation between both countries.

It allows for preferential trade relations and an increase in trade between Cuba and El Salvador. Both governments will promote the exchange of information and mutual assistance in biotechnology, genetic engineering, medicine, and the training of specialists. The Havana Times reports that under the new agreement 71% of Salvadoran products can reach Cuba without having to pay duties.

Around the Region

El Salvador Monthly Update, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

This report by Linda Garrett, CDA’s Senior Consultant for El Salvador, provides analysis of the most important stories coming out of El Salvador, including an examination of the crisis in the nation’s court system and a chronology of the gang truce and ongoing peace process.

Venezuela joins trade bloc Mercosur

Venezuela formally became a member of Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, on Monday, reports Associated Press.  Paraguay’s Congress had previously blocked Venezuela’s membership. But, after the June impeachment that ousted President Fernando Lugo, the trade bloc suspended Paraguay. Without Paraguay’s objection, Venezuela was voted into the trading bloc last month, reports Reuters. Paraguay’s government made a statement Tuesday saying that the inclusion of Venezuela was illegal, reports Bernama.

Recommended Reading

Cuba’s Entrepreneurs: Foundation of a New Private Sector, Philip Peters, The Lexington Institute

This new publication from Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute gives a comprehensive look into the growth of Cuba’s private sector, as the government seeks to shrink the state and implement a series of broad economic reforms.
Cuba: When Bureaucrats Attack, Nick Miroff, GlobalPost

Nick Miroff tells the story of unique and successful restaurant closed by Cuban authorities:  “In the new Cuba, the one President Raul Castro and his team of reformers say they’re building, the hard-working entrepreneur is a patriotic figure, a job-creator who’s helping to lift up the island’s feeble economy. That’s the Cuba where Ulises Aquino thought it would be a good idea to start a business. With funds earned abroad as an award-winning opera singer, Aquino opened a restaurant and cabaret last year where the company he founded, Opera de la Calle (Opera of the Street) could perform.”

Azucar, Tamsin Smith, Huffington Post

“Life, on occasion, makes us wait. This quirk of experience often seems most true when the want goes deepest. Perhaps these pauses are self-administered. After all, what is “life” beyond the patterns we perceive or choose to perceive from the pickup sticks of our past. Well, for whatever reason, my delay in visiting Cuba — after years and years of wanting — somehow landed me there in exactly a moment, a manner, and a mode of mind that dissolved all to opening.”

Beyond Equal Rights, Michelle Bachelet, Quarterly Americas

“Women’s political and economic participation strengthens democracy, equality and the economy. And while women’s empowerment and full participation in society are important goals in themselves, they are also vital for reducing poverty, achieving universal education, improving maternal and child health, and fulfilling other development goals. Increasing the presence of women in politics not only responds to their rights as citizens; it enriches political discourse, decision-making and inclusiveness, and improves social conditions through the passage of equitable laws and policies.”

Film Screening

Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, Saul Landau, Avalon Theatre

This film by Saul Landau addresses the cause of The Cuban 5 and will be screened in Washington on August 14, 2012 at the Avalon Theater.  The Cuban Five were tried and sentenced 14 years ago in Miami for committing espionage and conspiracy against the United States.  The plight of Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor arrested in Dec 2009, and sentenced to 15 years in prison for engaging in “regime change” activities on the island, is being linked to the plight of the Five. Cuba’s government has expressed its desire to have a reciprocal humanitarian exchange of Alan Gross for the Cuban 5. After the film, Fulton Armstrong, a retired  CIA official will answer questions.  Rabbi David Shneyer of Congregation Am Kolel – where Alan Gross was a member – will moderate the discussion.

Avalon Theater, August 14 at 8 pm.
*Seating is limited. Admission is $10. E-mail info@am-kolel.org to make a reservation.

END NOTE

In the final months before the U.S. presidential election, El Salvador’s constitutional dispute provided an opportunity for Washington’s cold warriors to again raise the specter of a Chávez-style takeover by the country’s center-left president Mauricio Funes and his party, the FMLN.

The controversy arose with a ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court invalidating Court appointments by the National Assembly in 2006 and 2012 based on an arguable interpretation of the Constitution. The ruling has divided El Salvador, and not simply or neatly along traditional party lines. But for two months the political crisis has left many of the country’s institutions paralyzed while long-standing social and economic problems urgently await attention.

Following weeks of heated rhetoric over the makeup of the Supreme Court quiet diplomatic pressure prevailed. On July 24th, President Funes summoned all political leaders to “continuous and private” negotiations. After six long, intense meetings, the parties agreed on some issues, but negotiations continue into the August holidays.

In many ways, the fact that El Salvador had this trouble and was working it out is to be celebrated; but not in bi-polar, highly polarized Washington.

Instead, El Salvador is being portrayed as “ground zero in the Chávez revolution” and President Obama as “sympathizing with power grabbers.”  Dire warnings from conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady and the Washington Post Editorial Board paved the way for Senators Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Richard Lugar to threaten to cut development programs to the country. Elliot Abrams, a former Reagan Administration official, indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, accused the Obama administration of “indifference to the disappearance of democracy” in El Salvador.

In contrast, Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Jim McGovern released a statement that said, in part, “We are encouraged by the commitment by President Funes and representatives of El Salvador’s political parties to resolve this crisis expeditiously.  We agree with the Department of State that this is a matter to be resolved by Salvadorans through dialogue, and we reaffirm our support for U.S. assistance for El Salvador.”

Ambassador Francisco Altschul penned a response to the Wall Street Journal piece, affirming his faith in the negotiation process. Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez acknowledged the difficulty of the negotiations, the necessity for a resolution to the crisis that has paralyzed the courts, and “the clamor of the international community” when he wrote, “Twenty years ago we surprised the world…Now we have the opportunity to surprise the world again.”

So does Washington, although the climb here might be a bit steeper.  What El Salvador does not need at this moment is an alliance of Cold War Warriors, veterans of the Contra War, and supporters of the 2009 Honduras coup threatening a cut off of aid as Salvadorans try – diligently – to work things out.  Their rhetoric might make hardliners here happy, but the dispute in El Salvador can be resolved without it.

For more detailed information on the dispute, see our Monthly Update on El Salvador, written by Linda Garrett.

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